Ghost stories

Haunted Austin, A.K.A. Be Careful With Your Brain

Happy Day-After-Halloween!

I had so much fun yesterday that I forgot to even post here. :)

My Halloween-Birthday was a laidback day of hanging out with my hubby and pets, and I loved every minute of it. The day included some very thoughtful and spooky gifts (such as the eyeball necklace and Day of the Dead bottle opener from my hubby’s sisters) and lots of ghostly books (because my family and friends know me well). I also went to see Hotel Transylvania 2 (so cute), had a nice nap (when you’re 39 you get to nap on your birthday if you want), and had a great time handing out candy to all the adorable trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood. I think my favorite costume this year was the little boy wearing the skeleton suit and rainbow butterfly wings.

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My birthday celebration ended with one of my favorite pastimes—reading scary stories in bed. This year, I chose nonfiction and opened up my new book, Haunted Austin: History and Hauntings in the Capital City. It’s by Jeanine Plumer who, coincidentally, is the woman who started the Austin Ghost Tours, which I attended for the first time last Wednesday night.

This isn’t an official book review because I’m only halfway through the stories so far, but I can already tell you this is a great book. I’m no stranger to stories of local hauntings. I like to pick up local lore on vacations, and have read both Haunted Alaska and Haunted Maine among other things. Strangely, though, I’ve never learned much about my own town’s ghostly lore until now.

While I enjoyed both the Alaska and Maine books, there wasn’t a lot of substance to their ghost stories (no pun intended). They focused on the haunting part and skimped on the background info, often leaving the causes of the disturbances vague or easily doubted. But Haunted Austin is a well-written volume that concentrates on the history of the city and then shares snippets of ghostly phenomena that relate to that history. Some people might be disappointed that Plumer devotes eight pages of text to the Lake MacDonald flood in April of 1900 before mentioning any specters, but I loved it. I’m learning so much about Austin and, to me, the history makes the ghost sightings that much more intriguing.

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So, last night, Halloween night, I was in bed reading Haunted Austin, and although I was loving the book, I didn’t expect it to scare me. I mean, being told that someone saw a ghost is cool, but not skin-crawling, make-you-look-behind-you creepy. And I was right—the book didn’t scare me. But one story totally and completely traumatized me and made me worry I would have nightmares. That was the story of Josiah Wilbarger.

When something traumatizes me, I like to tell as many people as possible so that they can be traumatized too. (I’m generous like that.) So I’m going to sum up the story for you here.

(Warning: You might want to sit down and stop eating.)

Josiah Wilbarger was shot in the neck by Comanches in 1833 and left by his friends who thought he was dead. But really he was just temporarily paralyzed. The Comanches stripped him naked and scalped him WHILE HE WAS CONSCIOUS, then left. He later came to, regained his ability to move, and crawled for a while before being rescued due to prophetic dreams and ghostly appearances. (That part was cool but not what traumatized me.) Josiah lived for eleven years after being scalped, BUT…

“Wilbarger’s head where he had been scalped never healed, leaving a portion of bone exposed. He kept the area covered as best he could with scarves and hats, even fashioning a metal plate to cover the hole. In time though, the bone became diseased and weakened, finally exposing the brain. Sadly, infection made its way into the moist tissue and eventually worked its way to the inside of his brain. The pace of his slow deterioration accelerated when he bumped the exposed spot on a low door frame.”

AAAAAAAAA! EW! EW! EW! He had a HOLE in his HEAD exposing his BRAIN and he bumped it on a door frame! HE BUMPED HIS BRAIN ON A DOOR FRAME!!!!

Forget fiction horror stories, this was the most horrible, disgusting thing I’ve read in a LONG time. I look forward to seeing what the rest of Haunted Austin has in store for me.

Have a nice day, and try not to bump your brain on anything.

It’s October!

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The air is getting cooler, and my yard is filled with pumpkins and creepy creatures, including Edward Broomhands, who’s new to the family. I have the theme song from The Blob stuck in my head, and all my smiley faces have fangs, and I’m happy, HAPPY, HAPPY because my favorite month is here!

Don't mess with Edward Broomhands.

Don’t mess with Edward Broomhands.

Last year I wrote NINE Halloween-related blog posts during the month of October. Wow. Sadly, I have no intention of trying to break that record this year, or even tie it. My little witchy heart wants to, but between jobs and novel revisions and various festive events on the calendar, I just don’t have the time. Plus I’ve got those zombies to kill, that monster to reincarnate, some apples to poison, and somewhere in there I’ve got to get these horns looked at. See? I’m swamped. In fact, if you see me blogging more than three times this month, STOP ME! It means I’m neglecting something important. Or I’ve been possessed.

But before I leave you to your own ghoulish amusements, here are a few things I think you should know.

Fun Literary Halloween Events

First, there are some really cool Halloween-themed literary events in Austin this month. Or literary-themed Halloween events. I’m not sure. I just know they all sound awesome.

Grimm’s Ghostly Fairy Tales & Haunted Trails at Pioneer Farms – This family-friendly event runs for three weekends and includes all the fixings for a spooktacular Halloween.

Texas Book Festival Lit Crawl – On the night of October 17th, authors and book-lovers will be gathering all over the city for unique interactive events such as games, trivia, and collaborative short stories. One session called Are You Afraid of the Dark? will be held in the Texas State Cemetery, where YA authors will tell spooky tales and ghost stories.

SCBWI Ghost Tour – If you’re a member of SCBWI, join the Austin chapter for a ghost tour on October 28th, when we’ll take a haunted moonlight walk through some of Austin’s creepiest history.

A Special Gift

Last year, I posted a plea to anyone who reads my blog to help me find the Halloween artwork my dad made for me that was stolen several years ago. Unfortunately, my post turned up no leads, and I came to terms with the fact that I’d probably never see the thing again. That’s still true. But this year, my dad made me a new one that’s even bigger and more awesome that the one that was taken.

Made by my dad with spooky love

Made by my dad with spooky love

Thanks, Dad! I love it. And to any would-be thieves out there, you should know that this one has been secured so that you can’t run off with it. It’s also been cursed. Anyone who steals it will be doomed for all eternity. Oh and my pumpkins are also cursed. And my car. And my mail. And my potted plants. Look, just don’t steal from me. Everything I own is cursed.

And last, but certainly not least…

We Are All Being Watched

It’s now hammock weather in Austin, which I love. About a week ago, I spent three hours reading in my hammock in the backyard. When the sun went down and I could no longer see my book, I got my book light and a blanket and kept reading. I stayed out until about 9:30 p.m. While I was out there, I kept seeing tiny greenish glints coming from the grass in various places. I wondered what was reflecting the light, worried it might be something sharp like a piece of broken glass. I meant to check later but forgot and by the time I remembered I couldn’t find them again.

A few nights later, while standing on the back porch shining a flashlight in the backyard (because I thought I heard something), I saw them again—a tiny green sparkle under the rosemary bush, another under the hammock, a third by the bird bath, a fourth in the grass. I decided to investigate.

You know what they are? Spider eyes! They are the eyes of spiders. Spiders that are looking at ME with their spider eyes.

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That is all. Sleep tight.

Horror-Related Happenings

Full moon rising over Austin, TX - May 3, 2015, photo by Carie Juettner

Full moon rising over Austin, TX – May 3, 2015, photo by Carie Juettner

More than once in my life, I’ve been told, This isn’t the right time for a horror story. Apparently some people think you can’t read a ghost story unless it’s midnight on Friday the 13th and you’re in the middle of an abandoned farmhouse with only a half-burned candle for light. And wolves howling outside. While I agree that’s probably the ideal setting for a spooky tale, I also believe that sunny days at the beach, front yard hammocks, and picnics are also excellent settings for horror stories. If a story is truly going to give you the creeps, it’s going to do it no matter what the time or temperature.

Having said that, it’s SPRING TIME! The skies are blue, the birds are chirping, the wildflowers are blooming, and… it’s time for some horror updates. :)

Something New, Something Old,
Something Published, Something Bold

Something New:

The hubby and I have started watching a new (to us) show—Bates Motel—and I’m really getting into it. I decided to give it a try based on Annie Neugebauer’s recommendation. (<– It’s really hard to read her enthusiastic rant and NOT feel compelled to watch it.) The show is currently in its fourth season and we’re only halfway through the first, but already it’s become a favorite. Of course, we had to start by re-watching the original Psycho. Anthony Perkins is unbeatable as Norman Bates, but I think the casting of young Norman in Bates Motel is excellent.

[Fun fact: While we were watching Psycho, a huge daddy long legs crawled over my husband’s head. Hee hee. That spider had perfect timing.]

Something Old:

I recently re-discovered this cool book I got when I was a kid. GHOSTS: A Classic Collection, Illustrated by Walt Sturrock, was published by Unicorn Publishing House in 1989. I don’t actually remember when or where I got it, but chances are it was a gift for my thirteenth birthday. (It certainly looks like the perfect Halloween-birthday gift.) The collection includes nine classic ghost stories, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” and “The Monkey’s Paw” (an all time favorite). In addition to the stories, there are thirty illustrations by Walt Sturrock, and they are beautiful and disturbing. You can see most of them on Sturrock’s website. This is the cover and one of my favorite pictures:

Ghosts: A Classic Collection cover and

Ghosts: A Classic Collection cover and “Was it a Dream” illustration by Walt Sturrock

As a kid, I admit, it was the illustrations that I cared about. I wasn’t actually a big reader when I was young and the stories were too long and too old fashioned for me to get into. But I loved the pictures and the book itself—a heavy black hardback with the headless horseman on the front and a silver skull on the back. Eventually, I did start reading the stories, but I’m honestly not sure I ever got through the whole thing. So I’m reading them now. Even the ones I already know, like “The German Student,” I’m reading again because I want to read them in this unique volume.

If you can find a copy of GHOSTS: A Classic Collection, grab it. If you’re a fan of horror, the stories may not be new to you, but the experience will. Also, it makes a great gift for the young horror-enthusiasts in your life, even if they just want to look at the pictures for now.

Something Published:

I’m excited to announce that my short story, “The Girl in the Attic,” has been accepted for Growing Pains, a new anthology coming soon from Sinister Saints, an imprint of Horrified Press.

From the Horrified Press website:

Growing up is never easy. But what if the growing pains experienced are unusual, fantastical … or the stuff of nightmares? How will your main character react to these changes? What about their friends, family and society at large?   What are the consequences for all those involved?

For this anthology, explore the challenges and mental trauma experienced by those struggling to deal with their unexpected life changes. Delve deep into your imagination to deliver twisted tales from all avenues of horror.

Here’s the catch—these stories must incorporate a YA as a main character, and must be appropriate for the YA audience. They can be told from any vantage point, and can be first or third person. Dark fairy tales, bizarre fiction, horror, surrealism, and dark science-fiction are all cool here.

They’re still accepting submissions through the end of the month, so if you have a YA horror story you think they might like, check out the guidelines on their website.

Something Bold:

This Thursday, I’ll be heading to Atlanta for WORLD HORROR CON! This will be my first horror-themed conference, and I’m so excited I can barely contain myself. In addition to meeting amazing authors like Jonathan Maberry, Kami Garcia, and Lisa Tuttle (just to name a few) I will also be rooming with two fellow horror-writing friends who I normally only get to hang out with in the online universe. (Annie Neugebauer and Ashley B. Davis, I can’t wait to see you!) Look for lots of tweets this week about my conference experience. #WHC2015

[And yes, I do realize that three women who barely know each other sharing a hotel room at a horror conference actually IS the perfect setting for a horror story. I’m willing to take my chances.]

One Last Thing…

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that I write creepy stuff. Just last week someone said to me, “You’re too sweet to write horror!” HA! I have three things to say about that. First, you’ve obviously never seen me when I haven’t eaten in a while. I’m not sweet then. I’m like a Snickers commercial on steroids.* Secondly, you don’t have to be a horrible person to write horror. My fellow horror writers are some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Their stories might scare the poop out of you, but they’re a friendly bunch. And third, I think it’s kind of fun to surprise people. Maybe if I were an old hag with long gray hair and a hunchback and warts on my nose and thin, gnarly fingers and a raspy voice**, people would expect me to write horror, but then I’d miss out on the fun of showing up to critique groups looking like my normal “sweet” self and handing out stories full of ghosts and demons and murder and mayhem. I enjoy this.

* Ashley and Annie, don’t worry. I promise to eat during World Horror Con.

** I fully intend to fit this description some day. I say if you have to get old, do it in style.